Culture shock

Always time for one more.
A new book arrived today, just in time for the National Day holiday week. It’s Peter Matthiessen’s Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals. It’s a long-awaited treat from, and not a moment too soon, for I’ve just finished reading, or re-reading, several books along the same theme, i.e. travel, spiritual and otherwise. My book list includes A Journey in Ladakh by Andrew Harvey, Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran by Jason Elliot, Stones of Silence by George Schaller, and Mustang: The Lost Kingdom by Michel Peissel.

Due to the complexities of Chinese national holidays, officially we only have 3 days off for National Day. Thankfully, everyone is able to “buy” two extra days by working on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, then having an entire week off before we have to work again a week from tomorrow. This meant rising at 5:30 am to teach Saturday and Sunday classes to “make up” for taking off Monday and Tuesday. To lessen the pain, I spent two days showing Chaplin’s Modern Times to my classes. It’s always a big hit, but as usual, I think of really great ideas for class activities around the film after I’ve shown it.


 Room with a view: kitchen prep, Mid-Autumn Festival night

My head has been spinning with lesson plans. For my business English class, I had the students spend an evening practicing how to direct the “flow” of a conversation, for example:


Openers Hi, aren’t you…?

Response/Acknowledgment I see. That’s interesting.

Re-directing Speaking of food, the other day I….

Closing Gosh, is that the time? Gotta run.


Then another teacher mentioned “collocations,” or clumps of words usually used together (I guess I’ll have to make do with it), and my brain started humming with activity. I managed to jot down these two-word responses or exclamations used in American English during my mini-brainstorm:


Way cool.
That’s hot.
That’s bitchin’.
As if!
Rock on.
Go figure.
No way!
Get real.
No kidding?
Far out.

Say what?

Get lost!

Get out!
That’s awesome.
For real?
Yeah, right.
For sure.
Righteous, dude!
That’s ridiculous.
My word!
Tsk, tsk.

These phrases may not actually give you culture shock, but some of my students might be taken aback if I respond to their statements by exclaiming “Get out!” Offended, they might imagine that I mean “Leave the room!” when in reality the comment is shorthand for “Get outta town!” (or “Get outta here!”) which, most Americans would realize, means “I don’t believe it! Really?” As I recall, Elaine on Seinfeld accompanied this statement by forcefully pushing people backward, propelling them by her own disbelief.

The real culture shock, though, is the theme of my upcoming lecture for the university, highlighting my oh-so-unbelievable encounters with all things Chinese during the past two years. As a bonus, I will give a preview of the shocking culture of my “native” Los Angeles, should anyone choose to visit there. With luck, I’ll be able to incorporate some film clips, amusing illustrations, and other tricks to fill up one hour onstage. Oh, yes, one other Americanism for this evening: “Break a leg!”



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